Game systems, smart home technology, and Big Brother


A news report says that Sony plans to record your conversations at or near its new PlayStation 5 game console.  However, I suspect there’s more to it than meets the eye.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

PlayStation maker Sony this week rolled out a new software update to allow gamers to record their online voice chats for moderation purposes.

“Please be aware that voice chats in parties may be recorded and sent to us by other users,” Sony is now telling gamers who have strapped on a headset to play with their friends online. “By participating in voice chats, you agree to your voice being recorded.”

The feature will go live when the PlayStation 5 is released next month. Recordings of potentially offensive content can then be sent to moderators to review for violations of the PlayStation code of conduct.

PlayStation’s rules ban hate speech, threats of harm, bullying and harassment as well as “[encouraging] anyone to hurt themselves or someone else.”

It does not appear that users will have to give permission for their audio to be recorded.

There’s more at the link.

This might be typical “woke” Social-Justice-Worrywart behavior.  Sony might, indeed, want to hear whether you make racist or otherwise objectionable comments, and “discipline” you for them in accordance with the company’s Terms of Service.  However, there’s a broader implication.

Too many homes already have so-called “smart speakers” (e.g. Amazon Echo, Google Home, etc.)  These use “virtual assistants” (e.g. Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, etc.) to listen for your voice and respond to verbal instructions.  However, they also record you, whether or not you’re actually speaking to them, and may retain that recording for an indefinite period.  There have already been subpoenas issued for such recordings by prosecutors trying to use them to prove, or disprove, criminal cases.  For one example, see here.  You have at least some control over such recordings, and may be able to delete them at your discretion, but let’s face it:  once something’s recorded and “in the cloud”, how can you ever be sure it’s actually been deleted?  There are always backups here, or research data there, and no-one can ever be certain that your recording(s) haven’t been included.  There’s also the risk of hacking, both from criminal sources and from news media and other commercial sources in search of information (as happened to Britain’s Royal Family some years ago).

Now we have to add game systems to this surveillance morass.  I’m sure Sony won’t be the only manufacturer to include such technology in its systems – technology that you can’t control, that it can use at its discretion, and that you can’t delete even if you want to.  Note that Sony itself doesn’t have to record your conversation.  Others with whom you’re playing can do so without notifying you, and send the recordings to Sony if anything you say offends them.  In so many words, Sony is co-opting its nosier users into a Big Brother network.  It’s a Karen‘s dream!

Furthermore, what makes you think Sony and others will restrict such submissions to an adjudication process for violations of their Terms of Service?  Are you telling me they won’t “mine” such records to train their artificial intelligence and voice recognition systems;  to determine what you plan to buy or sell, so they can market your information to advertisers;  and to figure out what you’re looking for in games, so they can tell their developers what features they should add to future products?  Of course they will!  They don’t give a flying fart for your privacy – they only care about their own interests.  They’re not even going to ask for your permission to record you.  They’re simply going to do so as of right, as a condition of service.

What’s more, all these databases and records are increasingly linked together, either formally or informally.  With so much data being held in the cloud, it’s all too easy for advertisers to pay individual companies to extract data from their clouds for research purposes, then link those packets of data with others from different companies to develop a profile of an individual.  Yes, I know corporations claim that such data is “anonymized”, but it’s surprising how often that can be overturned and individuals can be traced.  It’s already happening.

Sadly, pressure on our legislators to pass laws banning such practices almost certainly won’t work.  Such companies can easily afford to pay large “consulting fees” and “campaign contributions”, and offer free all-expenses-paid trips to luxurious overseas destinations where the legislators can “conduct research” (usually on the beach or in a casino, well supplied with nubile “companions”).  Odds are that nothing will be achieved;  or, if it is, it’ll have “back door” provisions that companies can use as loopholes to exploit our data anyway.

Trouble is, those most likely to use game systems – kids, teens and young adults – are either unaware of such risks, or don’t care about them.  They have little or no conception of privacy, of the sort that I grew up to expect and require.  I suspect that may be deliberate on the part of the big technology companies.  If they can persuade their users that privacy doesn’t matter, then they’ll be free to go on mining their users for all sorts of commercially valuable information.  They’ve got every incentive to continue intruding into any and every area of our lives.

I think the only answer will be to eschew invasive technology.  I don’t have smart home technology in my residence, and I hope I never do.  If I’m forced to use some such item(s) in future (because “dumb” alternatives are no longer available), then they’ll be the most primitive and least “smart” I can get away with – or I’ll buy ones where I can physically cut off their ability to “call home”.  That most certainly includes game systems!



  1. If you have a cell phone or an Internet connected TV, you are already being monitored. Don't believe me? Talk about something that you normally wouldn't buy. Say, birdseed or an exercise bike. Within 24 hours, all of the targeted ads you see online will be about that object.

    It happens to us all of the time. The privacy ship has already sailed.

  2. If you're using any kind of voice-chat, you run the risk of being recorded.

    I mean, the proliferation of Youtube game recordings should show that, if nothing else.

  3. You Internet-of-stuff enabled refrigerator is so helpful. It sees when you're our of milk, and orders more. It sees when you're using too much food, and tattles to the police that might be harboring Jews or dissidents.

    (You don't even have to be near a microphone, just near. I downloaded Viper antivirus for a customer. The search for the download was done in the shop, but totally on the customer's computer. And now I see ads for Viper on my BookFace.)

  4. The warning seems to be that people in your party may be recording you and by partying up you're consenting to that. Easy option is to only game with people you know or not use voice chat, I say as a gamer. Heck, there are people who troll people in voice chat and record their angry responses to post on YouTube. I'm cool with Sony making the situation explicitly clear.

    This isn't Big Brother so much as Annoying Shitkid Little Brother Who Can't Stop Using Racial Slurs who might be watching you for their amusement and he's the one in danger of being recorded.

    I'd link you to some of the kinds of recordings that I'm talking about, but that sort of content doesn't belong on this site. Some of the trash-talking is amazing though. Some of it does cross the line, such as the guys who don't only tell people to kill themselves, but give detailed and accurate instructions on how to do it, repeatedly in voice and messaging.

    And as a gamer, I'll admit to giving as good as I got. Never anything racial, but the things I insinuated my fellow players did with their fathers, uncles, selves and various species of livestock was quite creative.

  5. There's a reason that someone posted instructions on how to remove the microphone from the Google Fire remote. I expect it's the same reason that I know it was posted.

  6. This will run afoul of wiretapping laws in several states, I'd wager.

    I removed every "smart" speaker from my home (they aren't that useful anyway), and have disabled the voice crap on our phones. Then I had to off Alexa on my wife's tablet. But if you buy a new TV, it's on there as well. They're pushing this stuff into everything. Pretty soon it'll be in your toilet, I expect.

  7. @Freeholder. In your toilet? Oh, crap. NOw you’ll be getting targeted ads for Metamucil, Kaopectate, and Flomax.

  8. It's not *quite* as bad as you might think. Any company that does business in Europe has to conform to the EU GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations). GDPR requires that any data retained (including speech data) must be accessible to the originating user, and the user has the option of deleting said data. This applies for ALL EU citizens, whether they're in the EU or not.

    I'm not aware of any company that does this ONLY for its EU users (since it would entail a lot of extra work). Certainly Microsoft and Amazon have data portals for their US users. Google probably does, too, although I haven't been to the Google data portal. Sony would likely have the same thing.

  9. Many home builders offer 'smart' homes. Even if a home buyer says they do not want the system, the system is not optional. A buyer may think it has been disabled but they would be wrong.

    As for my computer eavesdropping on my speech and presenting advertisements for products I may have mentioned – which certainly has happened on several occasions – I have learned to just keep my thoughts to myself, to not speak out loud. Though the appearance of unsolicited ads resulting from eavesdropping would seem benign, the fact is we don't know who is listening or how our private information gotten from casual conversation is disseminated and for what purpose.

    Its gotten to the point that I half expect a knock at the door, or, when the subject is more politically minded, a sudden breach at 0500 hours. I think its beyond the tin hat paranoia to think of such.

  10. 1) Sony will be sued (successfully) in states I which both/all parties must give consent to audio recording.
    Lawyers will be salivating and lining up in droves for those class actions.

    2) Personal voice changers will become a growth market.
    Sounding like anything from Darth Vader to Stephen Hawking, and a myriad plethora of other possibilities – for every user, simultaneously – will become de rigueur online.
    Dear Sony: How you gonna tell which one of 23 Darth Vaders/Stephen Hawkings in a chatroom is the offending party when they all run open mics?

    Best wishes with your evil genius plan, Sonitards, and try to recall that 1984 was intended as literature, not an instruction manual, you gape-mawed corporate crapweasels.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *